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Leaders, Let Them See You Sweat

By March 1, 2018Culture, Leadership

Never let them see you sweat.

Or, so they used to say.

Apparently the phrase, “Never let them see you sweat” came from a 1984 Gillette company deodorant commercial.

It’s a great phrase. When I was younger, it was a popular cultural saying. The idea was used for much more than a deodorant. If you want to really be a man – never let them see you sweat. If you want to display courage – never let them see you sweat. And, perhaps even, if you want to lead well – never let them see you sweat.

Sadly, the phrase or mindset has carried over to the minds of some leaders today. Many leaders are afraid to be discovered for their inefficiencies and shortcomings.

I’ve found this equally true of pastors. I have even had parishioners tell me they don’t want to know my weaknesses. They want to see me above temptation and failure. But, to portray that would be hypocrisy on my part.

Here’s the bottom line with leading well, in my opinion.

You better let them see you sweat!

Leadership is more about being real with people. It’s admitting failure. It’s being transparent about weaknesses. It’s not covering up flaws – it’s exposing them so others can learn from them.

Leading well is being willing to say, “I don’t know how” or “That’s not my area of expertise” and then asking for help. It’s even a willingness to say, “I’m afraid” or “I can’t do this one”, apart from the grace of God.

Here’s my advice:

Wear your deodorant for underarm protection, but when it comes to authentic leadership, it’s all about the sweat!

Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting you don’t try your hardest, or put your best foot forward, or that you constantly complain about not being able to keep up. People want to follow confident, capable leaders.

I am suggesting you don’t try to be someone you are not and be honest about who you really are.

Learning the difference is part of being a good leader.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Cheryl says:

    On a side note: I like how you clarified that leaders should wear their deodorant. I chuckled out loud on that one.

  • Buddy Services says:

    Very Nice article indeed. Leaders stand out as those folks others want or need to follow. Their lives are held up as examples. When those examples are human, more than egotistic (and either defensive/offensive), every team member benefits.

  • Steve Borek says:

    Most people leading companies have egos that don't let them say, "Heh I don't have all the answers." In my Leadership Challenge Workshop, we show leaders that being vulnerable is a huge asset. Few actually get it or follow through. The ones that do? Their team will drive through a brick wall for them!

  • @Bryankr

    Personally, I have a hard time trusting a leader like that. It seems they are being less than honest with themselves about their own shortcomings. I don't mean to say they might disclose something I tell them, or that they would lie to me; Because of their inability to be forthcoming, they are probably going to be less committed to whatever I bring them and more concerned with "saving face".

  • Skip Weisman says:

    Great post. I recently had a coaching call with a new client who was having trouble creating a vision for his team. When we explored the issue he was stuck by believing he had to have all the answers, and until he could see all the steps and all the dots connected between here and the ultimate vision, he couldn't let himself put it out to his team. I told him it wasn't his job to know all the steps. His job was to be the visionary and delegate the "how" to his team. It was huge breakthrough for him, he applied that strategy within days and he reported back that his team jump on board and began creating the first next steps to move forward.

    I think its about "humility." A leader needs to lead with acceptable levels of humility and be humble enough to ask for help and strong enough in their own skin to be able to hand off the solutions to others. Humility is one of my 5 Traits of a C.H.A.M.P. if you'd like to learn the other ones you can get them at this blog article:

    Thanks for letting me contribute my thoughts, Ron.

  • What I've tried to do is to often communicate to people that I'm just a guy – that I'm trying, but I make mistakes. That seems to disarm people often and they realize that their expectations of me were perhaps unrealistically high.
    Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's best when people detect the slightest hint of pain in me – the pain of someone who wants to excel in all ways but is only human. I think that best communicates that I really care and am not simply dismissive of my faults.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I think you're right. I do think we have to be confident but that doesn't mean we are not transparent.

  • phil maclean says:

    Leadership is about authenticity, and you articulated that well in this post…. even if that means others knew you sweat blood in the garden.